"...today only a tiny fraction of U.S. electricity is supplied via solar -- well under 0.1% in 2009..."
- SOURCE: Kelly Vaughn. (October 29, 2010). "How to Make Solar Power Cost Competitive in 5 Years or Less." Greenbiz.com View website.
No doubt that the data point highlighted above is salient, but what might the variety of reactions be? How are those perspectives transferable to similar sustainability issues.
First, it highlights the contrast of what we see vs. what is actually happening. Think about the true cost-benefit ratio vs. the likely positive consumer/client reaction to solar PV panels on a roof vs. superior spray foam insulation in the walls where no one can see it. One gets more PR. The other is often a better choice.
Second, it illustrates the common distinction between flow and stock. Consider the growing percentage of new building construction that is built to LEED standards (if you're lucky to find a new project still under construction in this market). And then think about the percentage of the the total building stock that is LEED certified or meets some other higher level of environmental responsibility above business as usual. (Hint: The former is inspiring. The latter is depressing.) The same goes for solar. Recently installations have shown impressive year-over-year growth, but when comparing a 50-Megawatt solar project which makes a great headline to the average coal-fired power plant of, say, 750-Megawatts, it might change our perspective. Flow vs. stock...
Third, this statistic raises the much bigger question. Are we, or rather should we be, optimists or pessimists about the scale of today's environmental challenges vs. our progress towards sufficiently responding with solutions? Consider a quote from author, entrepreneur and thought leader Paul Hawken: "If you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren't pessimistic, you don't have the current data. If you meet the people in this unnamed movement (new or growing social and environmental leaders and organizations) and aren't optimistic, you haven't got a heart."
On one hand, we could react as optimists and we could think about trends like this one: The National Geographic Greendex survey of 17,000 people in 17 different countries indicates that the world's greenest consumers can be found in India and China, the two countries whose economies may ultimately determine whether we succeed or fail in solving problems like climate change.
On the other hand, we could respond as pessimists and focus on commentary like the excerpt below from humorist and author P.J O'Rourke's new book, Don’t Vote. It Just Encourages The Bastards:
There’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it. Maybe climate change is a threat, and maybe climate change has been tarted up by climatologists trolling for research grant cash. It doesn’t matter. There are 1.3 billion people in China, and they all want a Buick. Actually, if you go more than a mile of two outside China’s big cities, the wants are more basic. People want a hot plate and a piece of methane-emitting cow to cook on it. They want a carbon-belching moped, and some CO2-disgorging heat in their houses in the winter. And air-conditioning wouldn’t be considered an imposition, if you’ve ever been to China in the summer.
Now, I want you to dress yourself in sturdy clothing and arm yourself however you like – a stiff shot of gin would be my recommendation – and I want you to go tell 1.3 billion Chinese they can never have a Buick.
Then, assuming the Sierra Club helicopter has rescued you in time, I want you to go tell a billion people in India the same thing."
The End. "
Plenty to think about. Plenty to sleep on (or lose sleep about?). I welcome your comments...